A basketball player in the c–ur from a russian-american prisoner exchange. American Brittney Griner, 2.06 meters tall, a star of the WNBA, the American women’s basketball league, was sentenced on Thursday, August 4, to nine years in prison by a Russian court for drug possession and trafficking.
Arrested in February in Moscow for possession of cannabis, she finds herself today, despite herself, mired in a geopolitical crisis between Washington and Moscow, in the midst of a conflict in Ukraine. Franceinfo summarizes the story of this athlete, who has become a diplomatic subject for the United States, in six acts.
1On February 17, Brittney Griner is arrested in Moscow.
The 31-year-old athlete, considered one of the best basketball players in the world, was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with cannabis-based vaping liquid, days before the Russian offensive in Ukraine.
The inspection of hand luggage brought by Brittney Griner, who arrived on a flight from New York, then allows “confirm the presence of vapers (and) a liquid with a particular smell“specifies the federal customs service of Russia in a press release.
—Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) March 5, 2022
The star des Phoenix Mercury (club de la ville de Phoenix, in Arizona) is a venue in Russia for jouer pendant l’intersaison américaine, une pratique courante pour les basketteuses de WNBA, qui gagnent souvent mieux leur vie à l’étranger qu’aux USA.
twoOn March 5, the basketball star’s arrest is revealed to the general public.
Fifteen days after Brittney Griner’s arrest, it is publicly revealed. Meanwhile, Russian forces have invaded Ukraine and news of her arrest is met with what appears to be deliberate silence. Her club Phoenix Mercury of hers simply reacts, in a very brief press release, to be “informed” the player’s situation. His wife, Cherelle Griner, asks “respect [leur] private life” while she “work to bring [s]a confident wife.
Same strategy in Washington, where it is feared that the player will become a pressure tool in the Ukrainian conflict. “For detained Americans, we generally don’t give details because it doesn’t move things forward to get them home.”comments a White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, to justify this silence.
3On July 19, Joe Biden adopts more sanctions to release US detainees
Given the media coverage of the case, thePresident Joe Biden is paving the way for sanctions against governments that unjustly imprison Americans and is ordering more detailed travel warnings.
NBA superstar LeBron James had felt a few days earlier that US authorities were not making enough efforts to repatriate Brittney Griner. “How can you feel supported by the United States?”the four-time NBA champion and four-time MLB player asked on his YouTube show “The Shop: Uninterrupted.” “In his case, I would say, ‘Do I want to go back to the United States?'”
Joe Biden then signs an executive order authorizing government agencies to impose financial sanctions or travel bans on foreign officials or non-state actors implicated in the wrongful detention of Americans.
4On August 4, Brittney Griner is sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia
During her trial in late July, Brittney Griner claimed to have inadvertently brought medical cannabis into Russia, but never intended to smuggle drugs. According to her, the cannabis was prescribed to her by a doctor. “I did not have the idea, nor did I plan to introduce banned substances into Russia”The two-time Olympic champion then declares, from the cage reserved for the accused, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
He explains that he used medical cannabis legally in the United States, with a prescription and only on his days off, out of competition, to alleviate multiple “efforts” related to his intensive basketball practice. “It’s because of all the injuries that I had during this long period of basketball. It goes from my back to my cartilage. And I was in a wheelchair for four months, I had sprained my ankle.”she explains.
The Russian Prosecutor’s Office demands nine and a half prison sentences against the women’s basketball star, who asks the court to “not end your life”. She states: “I made an honest mistake and I hope the trial doesn’t end my life here.”
At the end of the trial, the court in Khimki, near Moscow, finally finds the star of the United States national team guilty of drug possession and trafficking and sentenced “to nine years of confinement in a penal colony“, according to the statements of the judge Anna Sotnikova, reported by AFP.
5On August 4, the United States denounces “abusive detention”
This harsh sentence arouses a wave of indignation, especially in the world of sports. After the sentence, theThe international basketball star’s lawyers immediately announce that he will appeal his conviction.
“This is unacceptable and I call on Russia to immediately release her so she can be reunited with her wife, family and teammates.“US President Joe Biden urges in a statement (in English) after trial notice.
The White House spokeswoman, Karine Jean-Pierre, also denounces the “wrongful detention“ of the double Olympic champion. “Today’s verdict reminds us of what the world already knew: Russia wrongfully detains Brittney. She shouldn’t even have had to stand trial.” she regrets. On the side of the Republican Party, the very conservative Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas, also speaks of “Arbitrary detention“.
On the sporting side, the North American Women’s Basketball League (WNBA) deplores a conviction “unjustified and unfortunate. The verdict…was predictable and Brittney remains wrongfully detained.”regrets the instance in a joint statement with the NBA.
6On August 5, Russia says it is “ready” to discuss a prisoner swap
The day after the basketball player’s conviction, Russia said Friday that it was “ready” to discuss a prisoner exchange with the United States. The US administration claimed for several days to have presented a proposal to the Kremlin to obtain the player’s release, but Russian diplomacy reiterated that an exchange could only be mentioned once the sentence is passed.
“We are ready to discuss this issue, but only within the framework of the channel [diplomatique] that was agreed upon by Presidents Putin and Biden”the head of Russian diplomacy Sergei Lavrov assured this Friday, during a trip to Cambodia. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that the United States “continue” to discuss with Russia over a prisoner exchange involving the basketball player.
Washington said in late July that it had made an offer “consequent” Y “I laughed” to secure the return of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for “espionage.” According to the US media, such as the New York Times (in English), the exchange in question would be between the basketball player and Paul Whelan against Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “merchant of death”a Russian arms dealer serving 25 years in prison in the United States.
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